Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Lent: Sharing more deeply and spreading more widely our life in Christ"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the March 17, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
Pando in Latin means “I spread.” It is the name given to a grove of Quaking Aspen trees in southern Utah, believed to be the largest and heaviest contiguous living organism in the world. Spread over an area nearly identical to the size of Vatican City, 107 acres, this clonal colony of Aspen shares a single massive underground root system and identical genetic traits.
The image of Pando as a single living organism offers a unique insight into what we believe about the Church and what it means to be a member of it. We are not individual saplings, left on our own to find nourishment or establish our own rootedness for virtuous behavior. Rather, we share a common source of life, and also give and receive from one another the life that has been given to us. Even more to the point, like the saplings in the Pando grove, we have but one life, and it is the one Christ gives us in baptism.
Lent, as a liturgical season, has its origins in the experience of preparing new members for entrance into the Church. Just as candidates for baptism and full initiation move step by step away from living life on their own to become members of the living organism that is the Body of Christ, so too all who are already members use these 40 days to deepen the life they entered at their own baptism. In a word, Lent is about Christian initiation and re-initiation.
All of this must be kept in mind as we take up the penitential practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the season of Lent. The ordinary meaning of each practice changes during Lent, for now they are taken up specifically to deepen our participation in the life Christ gives us and that we share as members of the Church, a living organism.
Thus, prayer in these 40 days is more than placing before God our individual needs. It is also about joining our voices to Christians of all ages, times and places for the salvation of the world. We have a unique reminder of this aspect of prayer whenever we celebrate the Eucharist. It comes just before we sing the Sanctus as we are invited to join all the angels and saints in praising God and singing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might….”
Fasting, too, takes on a new character in Lent, for by denying ourselves attachments that we have come to depend on for satisfaction, we open ourselves to appreciate more fully how Christ is our source of life that nourishes and satisfies in ways that can never be matched by the created order.
Finally, almsgiving, while ordinarily meant to help those in need, has as its goal in Lent a deeper solidarity with others. By sharing the goods given to us by God’s grace with those who are in need, we become aware of how God has sent us to be Good News to the poor. Almsgiving reminds us of the power we have to be a blessing to one another in sharing the life we have received as members of one body.
Pando means “I spread.” Prayer, fasting and almsgiving in these 40 days remind us of our shared life, our common rootedness and identity. Lent brings home to us more fully how far we have already spread, and still can, even more, as members of the living organism that is Christ.
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